Friday, November 11, 2011

A Great Many Things

Recently, a friend of ours asked me what career I'd choose, if not the path I've taken. It was difficult to come up with one solid answer at the time, and it got me thinking, not just about careers, but about the people and places and even hobbies not chosen. It's something, actually, that I think about often in one context or another, as I encounter the limits of my time or situation.

I've realized that my greatest disappointment has been the gradual realization that I cannot do everything I want to do. This may be obvious to some, but for me has been something that I have been denying, struggling against, most of my life. I have always been a person of many interests, who feels that there are just too many interesting and worthwhile things to learn and see and do, too many amazing people to get to know. Maybe this is how everyone feels, and I flatter myself imagining my uniqueness. Maybe I'm only unique in my stubborn refusal to accept this fact and move on.

In high school, I was a cheerleader, and I was also on the debate team. There were no other cheerleaders who wanted to do debate, and none of the forensics crowd wanted to be a cheerleader. This frequently presented a conflict, not only in the sense that I couldn't physically be at a debate tournament and a basketball tournament at the same time, but also socially, in that lots of people in either activity looked down on me for doing the other. Now, it was high school, for goodness sake, so I don't want to make it sound more dramatic and oppressive than it was, but the point is that I could have made things a lot easier for myself by just choosing one activity and going with it. But I didn't. I really put my all into both those activities and a dozen others, because I just wasn't willing to miss out on anything.

In college, things just got bigger in terms of the opportunities that presented themselves. I found that the less-structured class schedule allowed me to cram in even more activities, and before I knew it I'd found research and waitressing jobs, a sorority, a handful of honor societies, a peer-education group, the Student Activities Board, intramural sports, and so forth. Oh yeah, and I had a double-major, of course, because I couldn't limit myself to just one field of study. Looking back on my college experience, I'd still rate it as fantastic- I had lots of friends and got to do so many wonderful things, but if I'm honest with myself I know that I was stretched way too thin. I barely slept, my grades were good but not great, and though I held lots of leadership positions I was never able to do any of them as well as I'd initially hoped to.

I used to believe that things would change as an adult, that you pick your spouse and career and then things just play themselves out; you get more focused and your path is clearer. But it's not that way at all. There are more and more opportunities all the time, and I find that I am to the point where I can no longer choose "all of the above." I cannot take every job opportunity that comes my way, develop friendships with all the really neat people I meet, enroll the kids in all the sports or music lessons available to them. Because now the sacrifice is not just a few hours of sleep or some time to read magazines, but my relationships with my kids and my husband. And if I don't actively choose, sometimes the choice is made for me: having a second child means the distancing of a close friendship, teaching another class schedules me right out of a meaningful church activity. I'm being forced into depth of fewer experiences rather than breadth of many, and it is a difficult fit for me. I'm lucky to have a husband with great discernment about when to remind me of my limits and when to just quietly let me go.

I don't mean to imply in any way that I feel regret over any of my choices; I accept full responsibility for everything I take on or let go. I'm very happy with my life, my job, and my family, and I recognize the blessing of opportunities I have and tough decisions I'll never have to make. It's just that I can see the potential for equal happiness in dozens of other careers, cities of residence, and recreational activities. So many cool people I'll never make friends with, books I'll never read, offices I'll never run for... Sometimes I feel a longing for all the many things I won't choose, and am sad.

In the movie adaptation of Little Women I grew up watching, someone says to Jo March, "You should have been a lawyer." She answers, "I should have been a great many things." Another mom I met recently at Daniel's school mentioned this on her blog, about how this strikes her as a statement of all the possibilities this character sees for herself. I agree, and think that it doesn't just represent the recognition of possibilities, but a wistfulness for all the things she's passed up to do just what she's doing. It's something that shows her great passion for who she did choose to be, and I can really relate to that.

As frustrating as it sometimes is, then, to be excited about more things than I can accomplish in one day or week or lifetime, I do enjoy being a passionate person. In fact, I'd say there are few things I value as much as enthusiasm. I care so much about this hypothetical debate resolution that I want to have an elaborate argument with you about it. In my cheerleading uniform. Because right after that I'm going to go out to the football field and yell vehemently, jumping up and down in support of my friends' sporting event. I am going to try to keep a cleaner house than is realistic for me, overfill my weeknights volunteering for one more thing, and seriously consider setting a book-a-week reading goal. I will shoulder my father's longstanding accusation of having "too many irons in the fire," and allow my Gen Psych students to snicker when I open each chapter's lecture with a brief word about why this topic in psychology is truly one of my favorites. Because enthusiasm is what makes me who I am, and because the alternative, being apathetic or lukewarm or bored, is one thing I don't want to be.


  1. That's a good post. I have a similar problem in focusing my energy. I've always sort of envied those people who say, "From when I was little I always knew I wanted to be a ______" Really? But what about _____ and wouldn't it be fascinating to be a __________...You get the idea. And I think I struggle with committing completely to any one thing because I have that nagging idea that MAYBE I'd like it if I were doing something else better.

    You'd think as healthy, functioning adults we might be able to get past these issues, huh? :)

    But great post about it! I have always been surprised about the cheerleader in you! Guess I just know you best in other aspects of your life! :) BUt I have always admired how enthusiastically you do all your many jobs.

  2. That is a fun thing to learn about you!

  3. What a wonderful journey you are on. Just try not to try too hard and enjoy the ride.

  4. Love this post, girl. It's a constant idea I wrestle with as well. All the places I will probably never see, people I will never meet, experiences I won't have. But then, on other days, I look at those three beautiful faces smiling at me and I am totally content to make another lunch, wash another dish, and sweep up a few more crumbs. Being content is a tough one. My friend is reading a book called the Happiness Project which I want to read one day. In it, the author says the two keys to happiness are novelty and new challenge. I am trying to seek those out right now just to keep my "rut" from getting much deeper!

    PS As your high school chum, you made both a great debater and cheerleader! I wouldn't have wanted you to do any less!

  5. Oh my goodness, I think we were meant to be friends.

    I have always felt like I move social circles without totally fitting into any of them. Sorority? Check. Nerdy arts and sciences fellowship program? Check.

    I think the best part of this is knowing that we aren't alone, both in wanting everything and in going crazy about it.

    So glad to have found you!